The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end: whereof this

pamphlet, without beginning is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I

have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored

lines, make it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours;

what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours.

Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is,

it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life still

lengthened with all happiness.

Your lordship's in all duty,

William Shakespeare


Lucius Tarquinius, for his excessive pride surnamed Superbus,

after he had caused his own father-in-law Servius Tullius to be

cruelly murdered, and, contrary to the Roman laws and customs, not

requiring or staying for the people's suffrages, had possessed himself

of the kingdom, went accompanied with his sons and other noblemen of

Rome, to besiege Ardea. During which siege the principal men of the

army meeting one evening at the tent of Sextus Tarquinius, the

king's son, in their discourses after supper every one commended the

virtues of his own wife; among whom Collatinus extolled the

incomparable chastity of his wife Lucretia. In that pleasant humour

they all posted to Rome; and intending, by their secret and sudden

arrival, to make trial of that which every one had before avouched,

only Collatinus finds his wife, though it were late in the night,

spinning amongst her maids: the other ladies were all found dancing

and revelling, or in several disports. Whereupon the noblemen

yielded Collatinus the victory, and his wife the fame. At that time

Sextus Tarquinius being inflamed with Lucrece' beauty, yet

smothering his passions for the present, departed with the rest back

to the camp; from whence he shortly after privily withdrew himself,

and was, according to his estate, royally entertained and lodged by

Lucrece at Collatium. The same night he treacherously stealeth into

her chamber, violently ravished her, and early in the morning speedeth

away. Lucrece, in this lamentable plight, hastily dispatcheth

messengers, one to Rome for her father, another to the camp for

Collatine. They came, the one accompanied with Junius Brutus, the

other with Publius Valerius; and finding Lucrece attired in mourning

habit, demanded the cause of her sorrow. She, first taking an oath

of them for her revenge, revealed the actor and whole manner of his

dealing, and withal suddenly stabbed herself. Which done, with one

consent they all vowed to root out the whole hated family of the

Tarquins; and bearing the dead body to Rome, Brutus acquainted the

people with the doer and manner of the vile deed, with a bitter

invective against the tyranny of the king: wherewith the people were

so moved, that with one consent and a general acclamation the Tarquins

were all exiled, and the state government changed from kings to


From the besieged Ardea all in post,

Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,

Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host,

And to Collatium bears the lightless fire

Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire

And girdle with embracing flames the waist

Of Collatine's fair love, Lucrece the chaste.

Haply that name of chaste unhapp'ly set

This bateless edge on his keen appetite;

When Collatine unwisely did not let

To praise the clear unmatched red and white

Which triumphed in that sky of his delight,

Where mortal stars, as bright as heaven's beauties,

With pure aspects did him peculiar duties.

For he the night before, in Tarquin's tent,

Unlocked the treasure of his happy state;

What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent

In the possession of his beauteous mate;

Reck'ning his fortune at such high-proud rate

That kings might be espoused to more fame,

But king nor peer to such a peerless dame.

O happiness enjoyed but of a few!

And, if possessed, as soon decayed and done

As is the morning silver-melting dew

Against the golden splendour of the sun!

An expired date, cancelled ere well begun:

Honour and beauty, in the owner's arms,

Are weakly fortressed from a world of harms.

Beauty itself doth of itself persuade

The eyes of men without an orator;

What needeth then apology be made,

To set forth that which is so singular?

Or why is Collatine the publisher

Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown

From thievish ears, because it is his own?

Perchance his boast of Lucrece' sov'reignty

Suggested this proud issue of a king;

For by our cars our hearts oft tainted be.

Perchance that envy of so rich a thing,

Braving compare, disdainfully did sting

His high-pitched thoughts, that meaner men should vaunt

That golden hap which their superiors want.

But some untimely thought did instigate

His all too timeless speed, if none of those.

His honour, his affairs, his friends, his state,

Neglected all, with swift intent he goes

To quench the coal which in his liver glows.

O rash-false heat, wrapped in repentant cold,

Thy hasty spring still blasts, and ne'er grows old!

When at Collatium this false lord arrived,

Well was he welcomed by the Roman dame,

Within whose face beauty and virtue strived

Which of them both should underprop her fame:

When virtue bragged, beauty would blush for shame;

When beauty boasted blushes, in despite

Virtue would stain that o'er with silver white.

But beauty, in that white entituled,

From Venus' doves doth challenge that fair field;

Then virtue claims from beauty beauty's red,

Which virtue gave the golden age to gild

Their silver cheeks, and called it then their shield;

Teaching them thus to use it in the fight,

When shame assailed, the red should fence the white.

This heraldry in Lucrece' face was seen,

Argued by beauty's red and virtue's white;

Of either's colour was the other queen,

Proving from world's minority their right;

Yet their ambition makes them still to fight,

The sovereignty of either being so great

That oft they interchange each other's seat.

This silent war of lilies and of roses

Which Tarquin viewed in her fair face's field,

In their pure ranks his traitor eye encloses;

Where, lest between them both it should be killed,

The coward captive vanquished doth yield

To those two armies that would let him go

Rather than triumph in so false a foe.

Now thinks he that her husband's shallow tongue,

The niggard prodigal that praised her so,

In that high task hath done her beauty wrong,

Which far exceeds his barren skill to show;

Therefore that praise which Collatine doth owe

Enchanted Tarquin answers with surmise,

In silent wonder of still-gazing eyes.

This earthly saint, adored by this devil,

Little suspecteth the false worshipper;

"For unstained thoughts do seldom dream on evil;

"Birds never limed no secret bushes fear.

So guiltless she securely gives good cheer

And reverend welcome to her princely guest,

Whose inward ill no outward harm expressed;

For that he coloured with his high estate,

Hiding base sin in pleats of majesty;

That nothing in him seemed inordinate,

Save sometime too much wonder of his eye,

Which, having all, all could not satisfy;

But, poorly rich, so wanteth in his store

That cloyed with much he pineth still for more.


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